The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova- Book review
In the “Back to school” spirit I bring forward a volume which will most likely become a textbook reference for Eastern European wines, regions and wine economics. Caroline Gilby MW created the manuscript for “The wines of Bulgaria, Romanian and Moldova” with the meticulosity of an expert winemaker. First, she picked the information one by one directly in the vineyards. Next, she squeezed the essential bits and turned them into notes. Finally, she let her ideas mature over a decade. One can tell that she spend some time coming back to them until she felt it was time to share them with the world.
Meeting Caroline Gilby MW
Despite holding a world-class title for over a quarter of a century, the most striking thing when you see her in person is how modest and good-natured she is. There are fewer Masters of Wine (380) than people who went to space (561). Yet, she took the time to listen to everyone present at the book launch, answered all questions, even though some in a very British and polite manner. Before concluding, she brought into the limelight some 90’s inside stories.
She talked about the necessity to recalibrate the tastes of mass consumers, from the preference for wines with higher residual sugar (semi-sweet, semi-dry) to dry wines. A positive trend is observed among urban, educated, curious young people who have traveled abroad and who are eager to discover new tastes and are willing to pay for quality.
Regarding PGI, her recommendation is an alignment between the bureaucratic requirements and the elements that define the terroir. She believes PGI can be a branding element to help manufacturers position themselves in the domestic as well as on international markets.
The fact that she has a strong academic background with a Ph.D. is evident in her presentation. Her answers are clear, concise, with enough details to make a point, but never so much to let you get bored. She loves mentioning data where appropriate. You can feel her genuine love for wine when she talks about sharing this drink with members of her family who are not connoisseurs.
Regarding her favorite wine, Caroline said she is in love with Negru de Drăgăşani, whom she sees as a genuine variety, with an unquestionable but niche typicity, being cultivated on a tiny surface.
With three dedicated parts, one for each country, the book aims to offer a 360 degrees view of the wine world in Eastern Europe, which she knows thoroughly. She describes in detail the general conditions for each territory, the history of the places, the influence of recent political changes and the impact thereof on the market trends. The book has dedicated sub-sections for local grape varieties, wine regions, and producers. The recommendations of wines worth trying are a nice touch and bring a more personal note.
Although packed with information, the style is accessible. It makes a good read even for those who are not so well versed in the wine world but are curious about it. It’s a great snapshot of the lifestyle in each country. The book discusses not only the wine drinking habits of each state but also food preferences and even the link with other vices such as smoking. For example, she suspects that the Bulgarians’ tastebuds used to rakia and strong tobacco lead to a preference for heavily extracted tannic reds.
Caroline Gilby is not afraid to highlight some of the more delicate issues in the industry. For example, she takes a stand towards using too much oak in wine in Romania. She also pinpoints the need to educate the masses to consume dry wines and to move away from the low-quality off-dry and semi-sweet wines which dominated the late 80’s.
The level of research she performed is astonishing, and it’s even more impressive in the cultural context of these countries. Historically, Eastern Europeans were not very open towards foreigners and getting the information she puts in the book requires an additional process of gaining trust.
Of course, professional fault-finders will have some entertainment of their own digging out some inadvertences or more relaxed citations, but that is just missing out on the point of the book entirely.
I would recommend this book to western readers aiming to get acquainted with these less-popular eastern gems. The volume would also stand as a good read for the winemakers and dealers from the three countries, to get another perspective on their work, that of the western buyer and adjust their production and marketing accordingly.